Common mistakes to avoid when you’re ‘doing Agile’

When an organisation makes the decision to go Agile, almost immediately people rush to restructure teams, change people’s job roles and coordinate daily stand-up meetings. However, while these features are important, they should not be the starting point.

The first principle of the Agile manifesto is that individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools. This means the practices associated with an Agile framework should be the last step – not the first – when trying to implement new ways of working.

By placing too much emphasis on following Agile ‘ceremonies’, people forget about the outcomes they should be working towards – i.e. the principles that should apply when making decisions. These include leveraging market opportunities, delivering value early and often and improving communication and alignment.


The tales of what not to do

Elabor8 has been a major sponsor and supporter of AgileAus since the event’s early beginnings. At this year’s 10th Anniversary Conference on 18-19 June – we’ll be unmasking some of the common mistakes organisations make while asking attendees about the differences between ‘doing Agile’ rather than ‘being Agile’.

Elabor8’s John Sullivan, who will be speaking at the conference1, says when he worked with marketing service firm Sensis – then owned by Telstra – it failed to practice Agile at a wider organisational level, even though its product delivery teams were benefiting from it. This hindered the company’s ability to remain competitive when digital advertisers such as Google entered the market. The net worth of Sensis dropped by 70 per cent of its original value as a result – from the billions into the millions.

“Prior to 2008, there were very few digital marketing mechanisms out there, so the main way companies marketed themselves was by listing their services in print through the Yellow Pages or White Pages,” Sullivan said.

“However, the launch of Google AdWords and the introduction of smartphones saw the power of consumer marketing shift from print to digital – which for Sensis was a huge challenge as most of its revenue came from print. If Sensis had aligned with and adopted Agile principles by seeking out its customers’ wants and needs, and reorganised itself based on that feedback, it would have shifted itself into what it is trying to be today.”

Lead Consultant Alyce Katsanos, who will present on Governance in financial services2 at AgileAus, observes another common mistake she sees is sales teams over-promising to customers without consulting delivery teams.

“Agile delivery teams can work in a specific cadence towards goals they can meet and usually forecast work based on a high-level estimate – but if they’re given an arbitrary deadline and are told they must deliver by that time, Agile starts to unravel,” Katsanos said.

“Deadlines can be arbitrary, but scopes cannot. What often happens among software suppliers, for example, is that sales teams agree to a new feature for a new client by a certain date which includes a certain scope that is then provided to the delivery team. At that point, the delivery team discovers – based on the velocity – that it’s not possible to achieve the full scope by the specified date. However, once a contract has been entered into with the client, it can be difficult to withdraw.”

Simply implementing practices and tools is not an effective way for an organisation to achieve its Agile outcomes. The underlying principles of Agile need to be addressed; in this case: ‘Agile processes promote sustainable development’.

“When a company’s executives make the decision to go Agile, they often expect to be able to press a big red button to automate the change,” says Agile Trainer at Elabor8’s Academy, Sarah Rose, who will be delivering an Agile Business Analyst workshop3 in Sydney as part of AgileAus18.

“I’ve seen business stakeholders become cynical about Agile and decide that it doesn’t work for them because it doesn’t achieve the expected benefits and outcomes quickly enough. But there’s no big red button. Agile is a journey of continuous improvement, not a moment in time.”


Embedding Agile from the inside out

Being Agile requires behavioural change. This change is often completely different to how people, teams and organisations have worked in the past, which can be very challenging.

Businesses need to start by helping their people understand and relate to existing pain points, before showing them the benefits of Agile and how it can solve these challenges. This will help instil the desire to make such a change. Teaching Agile in theory only accounts for 10% of learning the process; the rest will come from putting theory into practice.

If businesses continue to focus on doing Agile rather than being Agile, they’ll miss out on its full benefits. Conversely, businesses that commit to being Agile will be equipped to continually improve the way they operate.

Shifting from doing Agile to being Agile requires strong business leaders at all levels of an organisation. These leaders must remove the friction and restrictions that prevent their teams from being innovative and, in doing so, will help towards creating cultures that give people the freedom to be agile.



  1. An Australian story of principle adoption
  2. Governance in financial services
  3. Agile Business Analyst workshop